The Panerai brand was established in Florence in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai where he created a watchmaking school, a repair shop and a sales showroom. The concept of combining all of these functions under one roof allowed the brand to take care of every aspect of a clients horological needs and build a strong brand foundation. The brand worked hard to build a good reputation and became quite influential in the sales arena for Swiss watches.
Giovanni’s son, Leon Francesco worked hand in hand with his father in the late nineteenth century to create a supply train from the Swiss horological leaders to the Italian firm so that growth in sales and production could increase. The Swiss specialists shipped movements, cases, special parts and even entire timepieces to the brand offices as they were needed. Leon guided the brand to more diversification, really driving more research and development, creating core competencies in mechanical engineering, instrument design and component fabrication. The tool and hardware fabrication pieces of Panerai grew to become a critical source of revenue for the brand.
The company continued to grow and by the turn of the twentieth century Guido, Giovanni’s grandson, had managed to become a supplier for the Royal Italian Navy. The military contracts contained several areas of production but it grew to become legendary and in 1916 the brand developed a self-sustaining source of illumination that was crucial to the military equipment. Panerai’s proprietary radium compound, trademarked as ‘Radiomir’ took a primary role for the company at the same time one of their partners Rolex mastered the waterproof case and opened a new door for the brands largest client, the Italian military. Waterproof timers were a key component for war and the combination of Radiomir and Rolex Oyster provided the base needed to deliver. World War II provided the perfect storm for Panerai to make their legacy come to pass and other military groups adopted the timepieces and linked the history of the brand forever. In 1972 the brand was led by a non Paneria, and the focus shifted away from watchmaking. In 1993 as the brand struggled they saw other timepiece brands making a surge on the consumer market, and therefore set out to deliver their own branded consumer timepieces, the first in the brands 133 year history.
While the military history provided guidance for the consumer market, it was a very slow start. Thanks to Sylvester Stallone who purchased a Luminor Marina during filming “Daylight” and several subsequent orders the brand felt a boom on volume orders and also on publicity. This initial influx gave the brand the push needed and they joined the Vendome Group in 1997 which allowed them to gain strides in marketing, product development and distribution resources. The brand customer base grew, the brand image grew and product lines grew.
Panerai was the first timepiece brand that saw benefits of the internet power and how impactful third party blogs, web postings and web purchases could be. The brand fan base grew and the appeal seemed deeply rooted to the historic ties and simple designs. So it seemed the Italian brand under Richemont took on a new life, and innovation and they began limited editions of some of the historical models. The brand captured attention with strap-changing tools and auxilliary straps that helped the brand flourish. New production facilities opened in 2002 in Neuchatel and in 2005 that same facility launched the first Swiss-Italian exclusive movment, the Caliber P2002. Other launches followed and the Panerai brand secured their place in horological history. Today the brand offers a full line of watches, still using those core models as their foundation, but also working on new products, including some precious metal versions. The brand has tried to focus on the future, but understands that their history is where their future lies.